Archive | November, 2021

OUT NOW – Standing Alone (Cast Adrift II)

26 Nov

Five years ago, the human race became independent as the Alphan Empire conceded it could no longer sustain its grip on Earth and withdrew, casting an unprepared humanity adrift on an interstellar sea of troubles.  Since then, humanity has struggled mightily to secure its position in a galaxy full of hungry predators, many of whom see Earth as nothing more than a prize to be won.

Now, one of the galaxy’s superpowers has set its sights on Earth, launching a covert campaign to weaken and isolate the human race before it moves in for the kill.  As their plan comes into the open, and the scale of the threat becomes apparent, the human race finds itself caught between a war it cannot win and shameful submission to a dangerously inhuman race …

… And if Earth loses the war, humanity’s short-lived independence will come to an end once again.



Snippet – The Stranded – Experimental Story, ASB near-AH

26 Nov

Hi, everyone

The Stranded is something of an experiment – the basic idea is that a trio of magic kids in another universe (I thought about turning this into a Schooled in Magic spin-off, but decided against it) accidentally messed up a spell and found themselves unexpectedly transported to our world instead.  As they struggle to adapt to the strange new (old) world, they draw attention from some very dangerous forces lurking in the shadows…

All comments are welcome; spelling, grammar, continuity problems, moments of dunderheadedness, etc.  (This is at least partly intended for YA readers, so please keep that in mind.)

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Thank you


Prologue: England, 1524

The Sacred Grove felt … dead.

Anne shivered, despite herself, as she reached the edge of the clearing and peered towards the sacred stone.  The air was warm, yet cold and devoid of life.  Moonlit speared down from high overhead, casting the scene into sharp relief.  There should have been magic dancing in the air, as she’d seen when she’d been a little girl visiting a shrine for the first time, but instead the air felt barren.  Something tore at her heart as she stood and watched, tears prickling at the corner of her eyes.  The prophecies and prognosticates and everything else insisted that this was the last chance, that if she – and she alone – wasn’t in the clearing when the moon reached its zenith their world would be doomed, but what if it was already too late?  What if …?

She shuddered.  Her grandmother had known magics, magics the world hadn’t seen for decades.  Her great-grandmother had known magics beyond her daughter’s dreams.  Her … their world was dying.  The magic was slipping away.  And Anne was here, alone, in a desperate gamble to save a world that might already be dead.  Once, the shine had known magic, like the hundreds of others scattered over England that had pulsed with light and life and everything else that had given the folk meaning.  Now, it might be the only shine left open to them.  And …

Anne took a breath, then shrugged off her dress.  Skyclad, she stepped across the circle and into the clearing.  The world seemed to hold its breath as the moonlight illuminated her.  She hoped, praying to all the gods of her ancestors, she wasn’t imagining it.  The magic grew harder with every passing month, the spells she’d been taught only a few short years ago no longer workable, even by the strongest of the folk.  And the burners were coming for them, as the prophecies foretold.  Their world was doomed.  They were doomed.

She pressed her fingers against the sacred stone, feeling something tingling against her bare skin.  Magic?  She closed her eyes, muttering words she’d been forced to memorise in preparation for this night.  The old women had drilled her time and time again, insisting it had to be absolutely perfect.  They couldn’t afford a mistake.  And yet, doubt assailed her as she finished her chant.  It was hard to believe anyone was listening.  The days when the folk had been able to call on the power of nature itself, to heal and to harm in harmony with the world, were gone.  The universe was growing barren.  The wonders her grandmother had known were gone.

Anne slumped against the stone, her thoughts churning as despair threatened to overwhelm her.  She’d failed.  No one had answered her call.  Tears dripped from her eyes, splashing on the stone.  She’d have to go home and tell the old women it was over and … and what?  She didn’t know.  It was the end …

… And then the world shifted around her.

A flash of alarm nearly brought her to her feet.  Someone – something – was behind her.  It was standing so close she could feel its breath on the back of her neck.  She wanted to stand up, to turn and face the being she’d summoned … the being she felt, now, had been there all along.  And yet, her legs refused to move.  She couldn’t even turn her head.  She nearly panicked, despite everything she’d been taught.  The being felt more … real than the world around her, as if it was the light and she the shadow.  It was hard, so hard, to keep herself calm.

“You could not gaze upon my face,” a voice said.  It was male and female, young and old, airily light and deadly serious … a chorus that echoed through the air and beat against Anne’s mind.  “And yet, you call upon me?”

Anne swallowed, fear washing down her spine.  The Good Folk were gone.  She’d called something worse, far worse.  And yet, they needed help.

“Great One.”  Anne’s mouth felt dry, yet she dared not stop.  “We need your help.  We beg for your aid.”

“This world is turning away from the light,” the being said.  It spoke dispassionately, as if it cared nothing for the destruction of Anne’s entire world.  “The magic is fading.”

“Yes.”  Anne wanted to scream.  “We need your help.”

She couldn’t see the being, but she could feel the cruel smile behind her.  “And if I give you my aid,” it said, “what will you offer me in return?”

Anne gritted her teeth.  She’d been cautioned there was no hope of sympathy, let alone goodwill, from beings so inhuman they were dangerously unpredictable.  It wouldn’t help the folk out of the kindness of its heart.  It didn’t have a heart.  But it would bargain.  Perhaps.  It was the only hope her people had.

“Anything,” she said.  She knew the folly of making such promises, but what choice did they have?  Time was not on her side.  The moment the moon started to set, the being would be gone.  “Help us survive and prosper and I will give you whatever is in my power to give.”

There was a faint hint of a chuckle behind her.  “The magic is leaving this world,” the being said, as if she didn’t already know it.  “I cannot keep it from slipping away”-  it paused, just long enough for her to feel despair once again – “but I can assist you to open gates to another world, a place where magic remains strong.  You can go there and live there and regain the magics you thought long lost.”

Anne shivered.  “And the price?”

“You would have been wiser if you’d asked that earlier,” the being said.  The amused condescension in its voice made her grind her teeth, digging her nails into her palm to keep from snapping back.  She’d heard it before, from a father who saw her as nothing more than a pawn to be married off as he pleased.  “To do what you wish, I require an anchor to tie me to your world.”

“I …”  Anne composed herself.  “I will do whatever you wish.”

“The king’s marriage is without issue,” the being informed her.  “You will marry him.  You will bear his child, who will rule the country.  The gates will open when that child is on the throne and close, for a time, shortly after your blood no longer sits on the throne.”

Anne blinked.  She hadn’t been sure what to expect, but … marry the king?  It was unthinkable.  The king was married to the love of his wife, a woman who had already borne him a daughter.  And yet, she had heard disturbing rumours.  The king wanted a son, wanted him so desperately he was prepared to do anything, even divorce his wife, to get a legitimate heir.  Anne hesitated, torn between fear and something she didn’t care to look at too closely.  If she made the bargain …

Her voice sounded weak, even to her.  “My son will rule the country?”

“Your child will rule, in time,” the being said.  “And your people will be safe.”

“Then I will do as you ask,” Anne said. She wasn’t sure how she’d do it, but she’d figure it out.  She had to.  “My people need to leave now, before we lose everything.”

“You do,” the being agreed.  Power sparkled around them as the bargain was made.  “And there is one other thing …”

Anne shivered, helplessly, as the being whispered in her ear.  She’d always been told the future was in flux, that predicting the future allowed her to alter it, but now … she knew, on a level she could not deny, that her future was now fixed.  The bargain would hold true.  She would bear the king’s child, walking a path she could not escape, a path leading directly to her death before her people reached the promised land.  She would never see the world she’d saved …

… And, as the moonlight faded away, Anne Boleyn wept,

Chapter One: Mystic Albion, Now

“I’m telling you, this will work!”

Richard frowned as he studied his friend’s notes, struggling to read them as the air carriage lurched from side to side.  He’d never quite gotten used to flying in a carriage – pitchforks, as was traditional for me, were so much safer – even though he had to admit the carriage was a great deal more comfortable.  The riders were not in control of the carriage, leaving that to the complex network of spells woven into the wooden and dragon skin wings.  It just didn’t feel very safe.

“Brains, you’re using your own spell notation again,” he said, as he scanned the parchment sheets.  “It’s confusing.”

Brains – his real name was Hiram of Hardwick, but everyone called him Brains – shrugged expressively.  “I had to invent half the notation for myself,” he said.  “If anyone else is doing researched into magical topography, specifically how it interacts with gate spells, they’re keeping it to themselves.”

Richard sighed, well used to his friend’s tendency to plunge into research without thinking of the need to explain his findings to others.  Brains was a genius, by any reasonable standard.  The only reason he wasn’t top student was that he couldn’t be bothered doing anything that involved interacting with other students, at least outside the classrooms and research labs that made up a third of the school.  He didn’t care.  He’d never put his name down for Head Boy, let alone made a show of proving he could handle the job.  He lived and breathed for pushing the limits as far as they would go.

And that’s why someone needs to keep an eye on him, Richard thought.  Someone has to remind him to eat, every so often, and to try to keep his notes in order.

He sighed again.  Brains was the rarest of magicians, a Head and a Heart in one body.  His detractors had made snide remarks about jacks of all trades and masters of none, but his combined talents gave him insights into magic that few could match.  Richard was a Head and he knew that, given time, his plodding approach to magic would yield results, yet Brains was capable of moving ahead by leaps and bounds.  It didn’t bother him.  His friend was a good person and life with him was never boring, even though it could be dangerous at times.  It would be a long time before anyone forgot the trip into Always Summer, or the scolding they’d received when they’d returned to the school.  If Brains hadn’t been such a rare magician, and his family not so important, Richard feared the affair would have ended very badly. 

His lips twitched.  They were both seventeen, but beyond that their appearances had little in common.  Richard was brown-haired, Brains was blond; they both wore school robes, yet Richard wore his with style and Brains looked as if he had a habit of sleeping in his clothes, without even bothering to cast cleaning and ironing spells on his outfit before heading to class.  Richard was the commoner and yet, people had a habit of mistaking him for the aristocrat.  It was perhaps fortunate, he reflected at times, that Brains didn’t care.  His betrothed certainly did.

“You may have to explain your notes to me,” he said, with a sinking feeling.  Brains’s explanations were always fantastically detailed and practically incomprehensible.  He wasn’t trying to mislead, when he explained, but he understood the material so well he didn’t quite grasp that everyone else didn’t.  “And then we’ll need to translate them into something everyone can understand.”

Brains nodded, although he looked mulish at the thought of going back over the material instead of charging into the unknown.   Richard was good at convincing him to break the explanation down to the point anyone could understand it, provided they had a good grounding in applied magical theory.  It was one of the reasons Richard had been fostered by Brains’s family, after they’d met at Gatehouse.  Richard had been told the family oracles had foretold he’d be someone important, but he suspected it wasn’t true.  The problem with predictive magics was that everyone, certainly everyone who was anyone, had access to them too, making the future dangerously unpredictable as forecasters moved to change the futures they foretold.

He put the thought aside as he worked his way through the parchments.  Brains had been digging into advanced magics for years – Richard knew he was a good student and he still found it hard to keep up – and he’d digging into the spells behind gates.  He’d wondered why it was so hard to open them in certain places and so easy in others and, undaunted by the lack of prior research, started trying to figure out the answer.  If he was right …

“It’s like building a bridge,” Richard reasoned.  “The greater the distance between the two sides, the harder it is to build the bridge and, at some point, you just can’t muster the effort you need to build it.”

“At some point, the power requirements go well beyond your ability to produce,” Brains agreed, in a tone that suggested Richard’s explanation was right and yet wrong at the same time.  “But if there is distance, where is it?”

Richard frowned.  The question was a good one.  It was easy to open a gateway between Dùn Èideann to Londinium, but much harder to open one between York and Bolton even though the two towns were much closer together.  Logically, it should have been the other way round.  Magic bent the world out of shape – Gatehouse was far bigger on the inside than the outside – but there were limits.  Surely.

“I think we don’t understand the true nature of magical topography,” Brains continued, tapping the parchments.  “Imagine you’re standing on the lakeside, looking at the lake.  To you, the lake is a flat surface.  You don’t see the bottom and so you don’t know what it looks like.”

“You might jump in the lake and hit the bottom because you think the lake is deeper than it actually is,” Richard said.  It was rare for Brains to come up with an analogy of his own.  He wondered, with a sudden spark of jealously, if Helen had suggested it.  “Or sail across the water and hit a rock, lurking under the surface.”

“Precisely,” Brains said.  “So tell me … what rocks are lurking under the surface of magical topography?”

He launched into a long and complicated explanation, drawing in observations from both earlier researchers and his own experiments.  Richard reached for a notebook and hastily jotted them down, resolving to turn them into something a little more readable later.  Brains wasn’t given to worrying about people funding his research, but Richard had to.  Brains’s family had invested a great deal in both of them, over the last few years.  They wanted some kind of return on their investment.

“And I think we should be able to solve the problem,” Brains finished.  “If we can make it work …”

Richard felt a thrill of excitement.  It wasn’t easy for a village-born lad like himself to make an impression, no matter how talented he was.  The thought of creating something everyone would use … he smiled as the carriage brushed against powerful magical currents and lurched again.  No one would hold it against him, if all he really did was translate Brains’s vastly complicated notes into something actually workable.  Hearts jumped ahead, everyone knew; Heads filled in the blanks afterwards.  There was nothing shameful, he’d been told, in taking an idea and making it work.  As long as he didn’t claim all the credit, he’d be fine.

Helen won’t be pleased, he thought.  But she’s a Heart herself.

He shook his head as the carriage started to lose attitude and glide towards Gatehouse.  The school always took his breath away, even after being a student for nearly six years.  The castle itself was immense, wrapped in so much magic it was hard to tell what it really looked like.  The human eye just couldn’t make sense of the interdimensional structure, a blur of towers and keeps and arenas and things that were simply incomprehensible.  Raw magic flowed around the building, currents of power flowing through the Land of Always Summer and vanishing into the distance.  A shadow fell across the carriage as a dragon flew overhead, untouched and untouchable.  The Dragon Riders were up early, bonding with their mates as they ploughed through the sky.  Richard had wanted to be one of them once, but no dragon had wanted to bond with him.  He didn’t regret it.  Much.

Small flecks zoomed around the school, coming into sharp relief as they came in to land on the rooftop.  Men riding pitchforks, women riding broomsticks … snapping spells at each other as they practiced before hurrying down to class.  Richard smiled and waved at a trio of younger students, flying with the squeamish determination of children flying under their own power for the first time.  Stronger magicians could fly without a broom – Brains’s father had boasted he often flew from one end of the land to the other – but it would be a long time before Richard mastered the art himself.  His spells were solid – it was the main advantage of being a Head – yet he lacked the raw power to fly. 

The magic crashed over him as they landed, the box doors slamming open to allow them to escape.  Gatehouse was the centre of magic, he’d been told.  The very first Gate – the one that had allowed the Folk to escape OldeWorld and flee to Mystic Albion – had been opened at Gatehouse, the first to open and the last to close.  There were others, hidden under the Princely Castles, but they were far less important.  Gatehouse had once been the key to the world.  In a sense, it still was.

Brains caught Richard’s hand as their carriage flew off, returning automatically to its master’s hall.  “We need to go to the library.”

“I think we need to visit the Great Hall first,” Richard said, wryly.  “They have to welcome us home first.”

He saw Brains’s expression – his friend looked as if he’d bitten into something sour – and nodded in understanding, even as he led the way down to the hall.  The annual welcome speech for older students was boring – the Merlin, the head of the school, had a tendency to drone – yet failing to attend would mean a demerit and probable detention.  Brains might get away with it – the staff hadn’t been pleased when he’d outsmarted the anti-cheating wards designed to make students actually serve their detentions – but Richard certainly wouldn’t.  The Merlin would probably come up with something new and horrific, just to teach everyone else a lesson.  Too many other students had tried to follow in their footsteps.

And most of them failed, Richard thought.  They didn’t realise how Brains ducked the spells.

He smiled at the memory as they made their way into the hall.  It was huge, so huge the hundred seventeen-year-old students who made up the year looked isolated in the middle of vastness.  The glowing lights overhead cast the room into sharp relief, drawing his attention to the podium in the centre of the hall.  The spells running through the air ensured that the audience always saw and heard the speaker, whichever way he was actually facing.  It was hard to avoid listening, although it didn’t stop students from trying.  The important information was always conveyed by letter, sent two weeks before the students returned to Gatehouse.  Privately, Richard had always suspected the Merlin wanted a good look at the students before classes resumed the following morning.  The headmaster was supposed to be very good at spotting students who felt like fish out of water and making sure they got the help and support they needed to grow accustomed to the school.

The doors slammed shut with a loud BANG.  Richard jumped, even though he was used to be effect by now.  The podium, empty a second ago, was suddenly occupied by the headmaster.  The Merlin – a middle-aged man with long dark hair and a short beard – stood there, his eyes seeming to peer deep into Richard’s soul.  It was an illusion, but it still held him still.

Brains nudged him, breaking the trance.  “Helen isn’t here.”

Richard blinked in surprise.  Brains rarely paid attention to anyone – out of sight, out of mind – even his betrothed.  It was odd for him to even notice Helen was missing … Richard glanced from face to face, confirming his friend was right.  Helen was going to be in some trouble when she finally reached the school, unless she’d been delayed for some reason.  The Merlin would probably send her straight to detention.  And yet …

His heart sank.  What had happened, while he’d been away?  What could have happened, to make Brains take notice of Helen?  He wasn’t sure he wanted to know and besides, there was no point in asking Brains.  He might be a genius when it came to magic and all related subjects, but emotions were a closed book to him.  He hated to think he might be governed by them, to the point he couldn’t acknowledge and comprehend his own emotions let alone someone else’s.  Odd, for a Heart, but part and parcel of what made him. 

The Merlin was still speaking.  Richard dragged his attention back to the older magician, wondering why he had to use ten words where one would do.  They could be on their way back to their rooms by now, or heading straight to the library before dinner and bed.  They were old enough, now, to set their own bedtimes.  He was certain there’d be no problems from going to bed after the witching hour.

“And you will have the chance to showcase your abilities,” the Merlin continued.  “This is the start of your final two years at Gatehouse.  Your yearly project will let you show off to potential masters, both your talents and your skills at thinking outside the box.  If you do something new …”

Richard heard a rustle of excitement rippling through the hall.  Gatehouse had always encouraged its students, particularly the Hearts, to think outside the box, but there were limits to how far they were allowed to go.  Brains had cheerfully broken them, time and time again, yet even he hadn’t gone that far.  Most of his work had been either theoretical or suggested improvements to earlier works, which had been tested elsewhere.  The idea of being allowed to step outside the box and try something new, something wholly their own idea, was intoxicating.  It would be fun.  And who knew?  They might discover something new.

“You may pair up, if you wish, or work alone,” the Merlin continued.  “If the former, please remember the rules.  If the latter, remember you must provide a detailed outline of your work tied back to your sources.  We don’t want any confusion over who did what.”

Richard glanced at Brains, who winked.  Whatever they did, there would be plenty of work for both of them.  Richard wouldn’t be hanging on Brains’s coattails, while Brains wouldn’t be getting frustrated by having to go back and explain his work to examiners who didn’t understand what he was saying.  Besides, Richard would have to take the idea and see if they could actually make it work.  A theory was good, and it might get them a pass if it stood up to scrutiny, but something practical would be far better.  They could write their own ticket, find their own masters ..,.

“And remember, Always Summer is out of bounds,” the Merlin finished.  “I do not want to have to bargain again, not now and not ever.”

He vanished.  The doors crashed open again.  Richard wondered, as the students headed to the stairs leading to the dorms, just what had happened.  There were agreements between Gatehouse and Always Summer, agreements that should have kept students from being seriously harmed.  The entities who lived deep within the forest were inhuman and yet they always honoured the letter of their agreements.  If something had happened, something that had forced the Merlin to enter Always Summer and talk to the entities …

“We can make an anywhere-gate,” Brains said.  “I already have the theory.  If we can get it into practice, the prize is ours.

Richard nodded.  Trying and suceeding would be brilliant.  Trying and failing … if their theory was good, if impractical, they’d still get plaudits.  His mind raced.  They’d talked little about the future, over the years, but if they actually made the concept work they could go anywhere, do anything.  Magic flowed through the air, all around them, as they hurried up the stairs.  Richard felt his soul lighten as the power brushed against his skin and touched the core of his magic.  It was hard to believe there was anything it couldn’t do.

“Yeah,” he said.  If nothing else, they’d get respect for trying.  He had a feeling most students would look for improvements on well-known spells, rather than striding boldly into the unknown.  The examiners wouldn’t be too impressed with yet another spell to turn someone into a frog.  There were so many of them that even first-year students could cast them.  “If we can get it to work …”

Brains grinned.  “The theory is sound,” he said.  “We should be able to craft a spellcloud capable of assessing the hidden topography and allowing us to determine a way to compensate, then steer around it.  The trick is actually making it work.”

“And even if we can’t improve the gate spells, we can at least predict where the spells will and won’t work,” Richard said.  It would be nowhere near as impressive as an anywhere-gate, but it would be a valuable contribution to society and one that would give them a good start in life.  “What could possibly go wrong?”

Emily and the White Council

25 Nov

Emily and the White Council

A couple of people asked, after reading The Right Side of History, why the White Council (or at least elements of it) was so quick to throw Emily under the bus and do their hardest to get her tried, convicted and depowered/executed before anyone could do anything to stop them.  They thought the issue came out of nowhere <grin>.  It didn’t and here’s why.

In the real world – a dreadful place, I don’t recommend a visit – one of the principle issues with immigration is that immigrants have been raised in different places and don’t always think the same way as the locals.  (Americans think nothing of driving for hours to eat; Britons are often reluctant to drive more than an hour or so from their homes unless it’s for something major).  Immigrants have different ideas about a lot of things, from education to religion and clothing and, even if we don’t want to admit it, it can be quite difficult to judge which way someone will jump if you don’t share the same cultural background.  This renders them dangerously unpredictable, which fuels fear of the unknown.

Fair or not, this is human nature.  The stranger is always suspect.

Emily is a child of our world.  The White Councillors are not.  To us, she’s a comprehensible character with understandable motives.  To them, she’s a dangerously unpredictable element who could go left or right or straight ahead or even withdraw, based on a calculus they don’t share and certainly don’t understand.  They certainly don’t know she’s an immigrant, so they’re not making any allowances for her limited understanding of the world around her. 

And so, from their point of view, Emily is just bizarre.

She defeats a necromancer … how?  Why can’t she do it again?  When she does, why doesn’t she kill all of them?  Why isn’t she promoting herself, or responding to reasonable requests for alliances, or doing anything they would do if they were her?  Why is she picking such odd and mixed friends?  Why is she …?

King Randor gives her vast lands, wealth and power.  She gives them away!  She is a brilliant genius who invents lots of revolutionary innovations, yet she gives them away too? She captures a school and reignites a nexus point and declares she’s going to turn it into a university … what is that?  What will she do next?

They’d be a lot happier – they’d certainly understand – if Emily asserted herself, made use of the power base she created and became a great ruler.  But she is just weird.  She should be ruling her lands, not giving them away.  She should be …

From their point of view, Emily is a loose cannon.

And what are they going to do about it?

Bribe her?  She’s already wealthy beyond the dreams of Quark.  Smear her?  Most of the known world thinks she’s a heroine.  Kill her?  She’s powerful in her own right – she beat necromancers – and she has, as far as they know, a father who might be even more powerful and certainly much more ruthless.  And if they do … who’s going to beat the necromancers?  The Allied Lands were losing, before Emily arrived.  Perhaps she is a Child of Destiny after all.

Emily’s enemies were caught in a bind.  If they moved against her, they risked disaster.  If they did nothing, they risked disaster too.  Who knew what she would do next?  They didn’t.

All of this was brewing ever since Shadye died.  And, when the necromancers as a whole were defeated, it exploded. 

Updates – Plus Book Promo

20 Nov

Hi, everyone

It has been a very frustrating few weeks.

To sum up a long story, my youngest son caught a cold that spread to me very quickly, only worse.  It felt like a normal cold at first, then things got a lot worse.  I was already congested and miserable, but I suddenly develop a major attack of sinusitis that felt as though I had broken my nose.  I had to beg the doctor for antibiotics and got them, which seem to be having at least some effect on me.  I also had a chest x-ray that was, thankfully, negative …

And then I went through it all again, with a new bug.  (Or perhaps the old one simply didn’t go away properly).  Anyway, I’m coughing and I’ve got a sore throat and generally feeling tired and miserable.  Bad news under any circumstances, but worrying when you consider my health history.  I keep remembering that the coughing and wheezing I did in 2017 was the prelude to the lymphoma/chest infection that nearly killed me in 2018.  So … I’m just trying to keep going, not the easiest thing in the world right now.

Anyway, on to writing.

I’ve finished the first draft of The Prince’s Gambit, which is currently awaiting edits.  There’s been a bit of a backlog because my editor got ill too, but I’m hoping to bring out Standing Alone in a week or so, followed by The Family Secret and Gambit.  I hope you’re looking forward to them. 

I’m intended to do The Stranded, a stand-alone fantasy novel following a handful of students from another world who get trapped in ours, next, followed by either Endeavour (Ark Royal) or The Infused Man (The Cunning Man II)Endeavour pretty much won the contest on my Facebook page, when I asked for votes, but I need to go through the plot again to see how things shape out.  (Besides, The Cunning Man did very well – if you liked it, please review.)  I do intend to go back to Emily, and I have been putting together a list of notes for post Child of Destiny books, but I want Adam’s trilogy finished first.

In other news …

We have been able to take advantage of the relaxed restrictions by going to London and Legoland twice, which is a Lego-themed park (who’d have guessed it) near London that’s suitable for younger kids.  It was better than I expected, although John was too young for some of the rides and he … was … not … happy.  The park seemed in two minds about monitoring social distancing and suchlike – there were ‘test and trace’ app stuff everywhere, but no one seemed to be really bothering to enforce it.  London was pretty much the same – some places were insistent you book ahead of time, like the Imperial War Museum; some places didn’t seem to care in the slightest.  COVID doesn’t seem to have done that much damage to the shopping streets, but it hit the small booksellers badly – one bookshop I knew has vanished, another has been repurposed as a cafe.  It’s possible COVID just made prior trends worse – London was heading downhill before the virus – but the city is poorer without the bookshops.

Things are well on the way to back to normal here – the libraries have stopped demanding that you book in advance before you visit, at least for borrowing and suchlike – but there’s a lot of little nagging points that are getting on my nerves.  As I noted above, test and trace seemed to be more theatre than anything else; lots of people and businesses don’t seem to be taking it very seriously.  We haven’t had so many political headaches as people in the US – and I think there’s a lot more trust in the NHS – but we’re still done with it.  There’s just been too much damage, inflicted on the rest of the city.  Edinburgh has lost quite a few attractions, from the Butterfly Farm to a number of cafes and restaurants.  I think there’s also a lot of people quietly stockpiling everything from food to petrol, particularly now, which has caused other issues down the line. Quite how it will all work out I don’t know.

My son and I have been playing Sonic Mania too.  It’s pretty good, a welcome return to the good old days after the 3D stuff (I could never get into it), but it does have its problems.

Anyway … my friend Dale Cozort, whom many of you will know from Alternate History, has brought out a set of new books.  The Best of Space Bats and Butterflies III is a continuation of his collection of essays, stories and background details – not so much fiction as detailed timelines and suchlike.  Char is the story of a near-human woman who stumbles into our world, provoking chaos: The Marsh War is pure alternate history, set in a world where the US occupied the Ukraine after WW2: Snapshot is a universe in which powerful aliens copy small sections of human history, then paste them into a world where they can meet up and interact.  (If you ever read the Well World books, it’s a similar concept if different in a lot of ways.)  They are all on kindle unlimited, along with some of his older works, so give them a try if you like the sound of them.

And so … I hear my sons downstairs.  I’d better go make them breakfast.

As always, if you like my work, please leave reviews.  Or send comments straight to me.  I’m always willing to hear them.


Dale’s Blurbs

Snapshot: Book 1 of the Snapshot Universe

Alternate realities you can fly to.

For eighty million years, the Tourists have taken Snapshots of Earth, creating living replicas of continents. Life in the Snapshots quickly diverges from the real world, creating a universe where humans and animals from Earth’s history fly between Snapshots, exploring, fighting, and sometimes meeting themselves.

In 2014, the Tourists’ newest Snapshot catches Middle East Analyst Greg Dunne rushing toward Hawaii to join his wife, who just went into labor. The new Snapshot doesn’t include Hawaii, cutting Greg off from everyone he loves.

Greg is thrust into the aftermath of a hidden, decades-old massacre, where Germans from a pre-World War II European Snapshot battle ranchers from a Korean War-era U.S. Snapshot,a fun house mirror version of the  US cut off from the world since 1953.No Beatles. No Internet. No Personal Computers. No cell phones. No Vietnam War.But an endless new frontier.

The prize in this struggle: an ancient, wild Madagascar Snapshot. Whoever controls it can fly to Snapshots where dinosaurs still roam, Indians rule the New World or Nazis or Soviets control Europe.

Caught between powerful opponents, and joined by a woman nearly driven mad by her past, Greg struggles to survive in this cutthroat new reality, to remain faithful to a family he may never see again, and to find a way back to his original Earth.

Set in a unique universe and played out in the shadows of larger social and technological issues, Snapshot is a fast-paced story of power and revenge, and an intriguing speculation of what we might have become.


Char of the Real People walked out of a mud-hole she didn’t walk into, wearing a deerskin skirt and carrying a crude spear. Then the murders started.

Char is a unique blend of police procedural and alternate reality, with county sheriff Francine Hart relentlessly pursuing clues–footprints and blood samples–that point to a murderess who is human-like, but not our kind of human.

Whatever else Char of the Real People is, Sheriff Hart discovers that her quarry is brilliant and supremely adaptable, eluding police again and again. Can even the smartest fugitive escape a modern police dragnet and get back to her own reality?

American Indian Victories

Have you ever wondered what would have ever happened if events in the past had gone differently? Have you ever wished that the American Indians hadn’t gotten the short end of the stick? American Indian Victories delivers over twenty realistic, well researched alternative history scenarios where the American Indians do significantly better than they did historically, along with a fiction excerpt set in world where Europeans never reached the New World and a novelette set in New England’s most bitter Indian war. Scenarios include:

  • What if the advanced Indian civilizations of Mexico and Peru had exchanged technology and ideas before Columbus?
  • What if a civilization equivalent to the Aztecs and Incas developed in eastern North America?
  • How could one shipwrecked sailor change the fate of a continent?
  • What if Carthage had colonized Mexico before the Punic Wars?
  • What if the Spanish conquistadors had set up independent kingdoms?
  • What if the ice age animals of the New World had survived to be domesticated?

Fair warning: The scenarios make up around 80% of the book and they do assume a fair amount of interest in and knowledge of history. The fiction should work for most science fiction readers.

The Best of Space Bats & Butterflies

Space Bats & Butterflies Book Three is yet another eclectic collection of the best alternate history or time-travel stories, book excerpts, essays and world-building exercises from the ninety-plus issues of a long-running Alternate History zine.

  • Spain Joins the Axis.
  • A Rocket Race in the 1930s?
  • Could you save Poland from the Nazis?
  • Alternatives From Little Known but Pivotal Wars
  • Rif War
  • Boer War
  • Communeros Rebellion (Spanish Civil War in 1519)
  • Alternate Technology
  • Electric World
  • Confederate Bicycle Dragoons
  • US Synthetic Rubber Industry Fails

Fiction stories and excerpts:

  • It’s 1949. After an alternate World War II, US troops occupy the western Soviet Union and Stalin wants his country back.
  • Descendants of the Spanish Conquistadors become pawns in a Great Power struggle between the US and Tsarist Russia.
  • A girl from a stone-age alternate reality stumbles into a modern paintball game, a murder and a remorseless police manhunt.
  • A mysterious doctor brings murder victims briefly and painfully back to life to help solve their murders.

Nazi Treasure Hunt Book One: Marsh War

Marsh War is an alternate history novel set in the aftermath of an alternate World War II where Hitler went for Moscow rather than the Caucasus in spring 1942. As a result, World War II in the east stalemated deep inside Soviet prewar territory. The Soviets were too weak to push the Germans out, even when the western allies pushed into Germany. Diehard Nazis fled to the German-held Soviet Union and held out there for years until the western Allies crossed into Soviet territory and destroyed them.

With the Soviet Union battered and partially occupied, the United States emerges from World War II as the World’s only real Great Power. Great, right? Not really. In 1949, two years after they destroyed the last conventional Nazi resistance, the US still occupies large parts of the western Soviet Union and has been sucked into the treacherous politics of the Polish/Soviet border regions, with nominal allies close to war with each other over economically valuable and ethnically mixed areas.  Stalin pursues his intrigues in this dangerous region, while Nazi remnants scheme to regain power.

While the US settles in for a postwar boom, US occupation forces in the Soviet Union search for missing German scientists, Nazi advanced technology and looted Nazi treasures. They also search for missing loved ones and brace for a coming war they are woefully unprepared for.

My Favourite Alternate History Novels

14 Nov

I went back and forwards on a lot of these titles – there are the ones that got me into alternate history, or inspired my writing, and/or made a major impression on the field.  I don’t pretend they’re the best of the best, but most of them strike a good balance between literature and pulp (with a couple of pure literature books).

YMMV, as always.

The Guns of the South (Harry Turtledove)

Point of Divergence (POD): American Civil War, Confederate Victory

Basic Concept: On the verge of defeat, the Confederate States of America is saved by time-travellers from 20??.  However, the time travellers have dark motives for saving the ‘lost cause’.

The Good: An excellent assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of an infusion of modern tech, plus forcing the CSA to come to grips with what it means to be an independent state (and how their descendents came to view their ‘peculiar institution’ as peculiarly vile.)

The Bad: there has been a lot of debate recently about how easily the CSA abolished slavery in this novel and the treatment of General Lee, who was – historically – a slaveowner himself.

Ruled Britannia (Harry Turtledove)

POD: Spanish Armada, Spanish Victory

Basic Concept: In an occupied England, Will Shakespeare is recruited into a plot to liberate England from the Spanish.

The Good: Very clever depiction of Shakespeare and the other characters.

The Bad: Not really enough action for me, although the intrigue is very well done.

Red Storm Rising (Tom Clancy)

POD: NATO/Warsaw Pact War in 198?

Basic Concept: Desperately short of oil, the USSR starts a war in Europe (it makes sense in context).

The Good: While not ‘pure’ AH, the book is an excellent depiction of a conventional WW3 that avoids many of the major pitfalls.

The Bad:  Could have been spread out over three books with ease.

Island in the Sea of Time (SM Stirling)

POD: Bronze Ages

Basic Concept: The island of Nantucket finds itself back in the Bronze Ages and has to rebuild civilisation from scratch.

The Good: A brilliantly effective depiction of the era, plus excellent assessment of resources available to both the islanders and the locals.

The Bad:  Some of the side-characters are complete idiots. 

The Domination (SM Stirling)

POD: American Revolution – UK takes South Africa early, then turns it into a home for American Loyalists.

Basic Concept:  South Africa, called the Domination of the Draka in this timeline, expands into a major global power, then takes over the world with an army of genetic superhumans.

The Good: Stirling creates a fantastic sense of a very different world, along with advanced technology (the past’s tomorrow) and different tactical problems for his heroes.

The Bad: The timeline is so completely implausible that it cannot be taken seriously.

WorldWar (Harry Turtledove)

POD: World War Two

Basic Concept: Shortly before the historical Battle of Midway, an alien invasion force (with 2000-era weaponry) descends from the skies and invades Earth.

The Good: Turtledove does an excellent paranoiac view of the war, with both human and alien characters, that manages to avoid some clichés (no total human alliance, for example).

The Bad: The storyline could have been condensed a little.

How Few Remain (Harry Turtledove)

POD: American Civil War

Basic Concept: A decade or so after the CSA won its independence, the USA and CSA go to war once again.

The Good: Turtledove does an excellent paranoiac view of the war (like WorldWar) and includes all sorts of historical characters, from Lincoln to Fredrick Douglas and Custer.

The Bad: The book is a sweeping depiction of a world, rather than a focused storyline.  Less noticeable here, but more obvious in the ongoing series following the alternate WW1 and WW2.

Lest Darkness Fall (L. Sprague deCamp)

POD: Late Roman Empire

Basic Concept: A time-traveller from the 1930s is sent back to the Roman Empire.  He sets out to keep the empire from falling and pretty much succeeds.

The Good: One of the first and still one of the best, touching on both realistic technical introductions and the limits faced by people trying to change the world.

The Bad: Not much really – less action than one might like?

Hitler Has Won (Frederic Mullally)

POD: World War Two

Basic Concept: Russia has fallen, the UK is steadily being ground down, the US is isolationist, and, in Nazi Germany, a victorious Hitler’s mania is reaching new heights.

The Good: A very chilling depiction of a post-war Germany in a Nazi Victory Timeline, with the main character being forced to realise just what sort of monster he’d served.

The Bad: The denouncement is difficult to believe even remotely plausible.

1901 (Robert Convey)

POD: Post American-Spanish War

Basic Concept: determined to snatch the Spanish territories captured by the US during the last war, Imperial Germany invades the United States.

The Good: A pretty-much unique scenario and sheer coolness helps override both plausibility and character problems.  Also does some good thinking on the geopolitical effects of a US-Germany War.

The Bad: The plot is very basic and the characters tissue-thin.

The Last Article (Harry Turtledove)

POD: World War Two

Basic Concept: Having invaded Britain, the Germans have reached and occupied India, bringing them into conflict with Indian Nationalists such as Nehru and Gandhi.

The Good: A terrifying depiction of what happens when ‘peaceful non-compliance’ based on idealism rather than reality meets an enemy lacking in anything resembling a conscience.

The Bad: Not much.  Technically, a short story rather than a novel; could be expended without too much trouble.

Ring of Fire (Eric Flint, David Weber, various others)

POD: Thirty Years War

Basic Concept: Grantville, an American mining town, is sent back in time to 1632, where they start the American Revolution a hundred years plus early.

The Good: A very good look at the impact of American ideals and technology, as well as character development and constantly-expanding butterflies.

The Bad: Some books and threadlines are more interesting than others. 

Invasion (Kenneth Macksey)

POD: World War Two

Basic Concept: a fictional campaign history of Operation Sealion, the unmentionable sea mammal, where Nazi Germany really does try to invade England.

The Good: Kenneth Macksey does a very good job of making it plausible.

The Bad: The above is hotly debated.  The Germans get a lot of luck and get a lot of things right which, historically, they might not have done.

For Want of a Nail (Robert Sobel)

POD: American Revolution

Basic Concept: A fictional history book of a world where Britain defeated the rebels during the American Revolution and die-hard rebels headed west to build their own country, eventually splitting the continent in two as global affairs started to impinge upon the alternate Americas.

The Good: Very good, very detailed, very interesting if somewhat dry.

The Bad: Quite a few moments push plausibility to breaking point, ranging from a semi-easy solution to race relations to a corporation with the power and influence of a major global power.

Potential Future SIM Books

5 Nov

I’ve been doing a little brainstorming (too ill to write properly) and listed the planned next set of Emily-POV books.  Nothing is finalised yet, of course, but what do you think?

-The Demon’s Design (The last of the old DemonMasters or the first of the new?)

-Wolf in the Fold (classified)

-The Promised Land (on the far side of the Blighted Lands, an ancient evil is uncovered)

-The Apprentice Master (Emily takes an apprentice)

-Devil-Land (a king claims he can make necromancy work)

-The Man Behind The Curtain (classified)

-The Hierarchy of Fools (with magic spilling out of control, dark forces come to intervene)

-Beyond the Sunset (what’s on the other side of the world?)